Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Are "Indians" Indians?

  1. Top left:Indian on an Indian;” Silkscreen print of Pamunkey George Major Cook (a Virginia Powhatan tribe chief) advertising the popular early 1900s Indian Motorcycle. Silkscreen print by Rose Powhatan & Michael Auld
  2. Top Center: Two Indian girls cooking rice in Jamaica. New immigrants from Northern India who came to Jamaica in the late 1800s as indentured workers after the emancipation of enslaved Africans.
  3. Bottom Left: Evidence of pre-Columbian contact between India and the Americas? Disputed temple sculpture in Somnathpur, [India]. “We find two male and 63 female attendants to the deities holding the ‘maize ears.’", CARL JOHANNESSEN ON ANCIENT INDIAN MAIZE, (p. 170)
  4. Bottom Center: Etching of Columbus landing on Kiskeia/Haiti Bohio (later to become Hispaniola)
  5. Right: One of a variety of painted version of Lord Rama

Indio n, Spanish. "Indio" means Indian, as in Native American. The more politically correct word in Spanish is indígena, but indio is also used, just like Indian in English.
Hindú /hindoo/ n, via Urdu to mid 17th century Persian (pronounced in-doo in Spanish) Indian from the country of India.
Dravidian n, Possibly the first people who became “Indian”. According to a view put forward by geneticist Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza in the book The History and Geography of Human Genes, the Dravidians were preceded in the subcontinent [of India] by an Austro-Asiatic people, and were followed by Indo-European-speaking migrants sometime later.
Indian n, from Sanskrit sinduh, via Old Persian Hindu “Indus” [River]: 1. A native of the subcontinent of India. 2. Applied to the native inhabitants of the Americas from at least 1553, on the notion that America was the eastern end of Asia.
“India”n More accurately Bharat, Bharata, Bhārat, or Bhārata may be a transliteration of either Bharata (Sanskrit: भरत, lit. "to be maintained") or Bhārata भारत, lit. "descended from Bharata") and may refer to: “Originating from Bharata, brother of the god Lord Rama.”

Given the above explanation of the name “India”, the people from that subcontinent do not necessarily refer to themselves by the Persian word “Indian” from “people of the Indus River”. They use their own religiously associated Sanaskrit word, “Bhaarat” to refer to themselves.
Many of the popularly held notions about the Americas began in the Caribbean with the Columbian Encounter of 1492. The most basic retention after meeting the Taíno in the Bahamas was that they were Indians in an extension of Asia. To Columbus, they were, in color, like the Afro-European mixed people of the Canary Islands, a Spanish possession off the West Coast of Africa. The English, coined the use of “Red Indians”, a designation that differentiated this ethnic group from the “other” Indians of India.

  • According to the British who colonized most of the Caribbean islands until 1962, people born on Caribbean islands and South America (British Guyana) were called West Indians.
  • In the Caribbean and Guyana an East Indian is a person whose family originated in India. Does this make them an East Indian West Indian? Incidentally, some people from India are opposed to the term “East Indian”.
  • Some Indians from the subcontinent (true Indians), do not think that American Indians should use the name “Indian”.
  • To confuse matters worse, Native Americans often are misidentified as an Indian (from the country of India) by non-Indians and people from India and other South East Asian countries. “Columbus made the same mistake,” is often the reply by some Native Americans to the query, “What part of India are you from?”
  • Pakistanis (pak= pure and stan= land) were Indians until they were partitioned from India, “which went into effect on Aug. 15, 1947”.
Growing up in the Caribbean, most people love to watch World Cup cricket played between, among others, India, Pakistan and the West Indies. Who then is the real Indian? In this hemisphere, this dilemma of cultural misidentification began with Columbus. The term became entrenched with the 16th century Spanish who created “a Juzgado de Indias or judicial zone [of the Indians/Indies] that was established in the [Canary] islands in 1566” to control trade with the Americas. We tend to blame Columbus for this dilemma, yet come to think if it maybe he did run into “the eastern end of Asia” in 1492.

Asia Extended

Asia [from the Greek name for] “the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.6% of the Earth's total surface area (or 29.9% of its land area) and with approximately 4 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population.” Wikipedia
Mix up the world’s population and every 3rd human you meet would be Chinese. Every 5th person would be from India. The rest of the continent includes millions more of other Asians in East Asia and the Pacific.
Added to these Asians, approximately 47,834,251,490 indigenous people who are genetically “Asiatic”, live in 16 countries in South and Central America. There are roughly 3,672,790 in the USA and Canada. These overall numbers do not include the indigenous Caribbean populations or the extremely large meztizo and other African, European and Asiatic populations with indigenous American genes in this hemisphere. Even Europe (and possibly other areas) had its mixing of indigenous Americans soon after Columbus brought some Taíno back to Spain. Some meztizos in the Americas obviously relocated to their father’s homelands in Europe and Africa (For example, Jamaican Maroons to Sierra Leone and African Americans to Liberia).

Is the vast Western Hemisphere of the Americas also a part of Asia? Some folks think so. However, not according to some writers. Yet, indigenous Americans, they contend, are believed to have come “from Asia over a land bridge that connected both Asia proper and the Americas.” Indigenous Americans, at the time of Columbus, were genetically, philosophically and religiously “Asiatic”. Columbus was on his way to Asia when he collided into the Caribbean homeland of these Asiatic peoples, the Taíno and Island Carib. To him, they appeared to be Indios. Sailing down from the Guanahani in the Bahamas, he arrived in Cuba. There he sent out an overland expedition to find the home of the Great Kahn of China. Until his dying day, maybe he was rightfully convinced that he had encountered, explored and temporarily governed Indians (Indios) from the outer reaches of Asia’s subcontinent.

Who are the real Indians?

“East Indian” is not seen as a positive term by some people indigenous to the subcontinent of India. A close family friend, who is from India, lamented that the word “Indian” should only apply to their people, is a frequent refrain heard among “true Indians”. “Native Americans are not Indians”. Some Indians, like members of the Goins family (from Goans) originated from Goa, India and married into Virginia’s Native American families as early as the 1700s.

The 1492 misnaming of peoples in an entire hemisphere is very confusing. They can be called “American Indian”, “Native American” “Amerindian”, or “Indigenous Americans”. Even the word “America” may be troubling since it was coined from an Italian named Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian man who never set foot in the Americas. The indigenous people of the Americas had as many names for themselves and their territories as they had languages. The people whom Columbus met in 1492, called themselves “Taíno”, which appropriately meant the “Good” or “Noble” people, a self-identifying concept that eluded both the Spanish and Columbus. The Island Caribs, another indigenous Caribbean group, were appropriately called the “Strong Men” by the Taíno.

Although Columbus was responsible for the first Caribbean misnomer, the other being Caribbean people as “cannibals”, he was highly overrated as a “discoverer”. Many have now come to believe that, for indigenous peoples of the Americas, Columbus’ “discovery” of a “New World” was dismissive. The Spanish now distinguish between the indigenous people of India and the Americas in the following way. Indu (in-doo) = the real Indian. Indio (in-di-oh) = Indigenous Americans. Today, when we call over the telephone for technical help with our computer, we often get a real Indian on the other end of the line. Maybe we are talking to people who are more “local” than we think. Remembering the invention of gunpowder, trigonometry, etc., etc., what makes it equally interesting is that both they and the Chinese are well on their way to dominating the known world…AGAIN!

NOTE: The Names They Call Us

Some tribal names that Indigenous Americans traditionally call themselves and what their rivals called then are:
  • Taíno (the Caribbean's "Good"or "Noble People"), called "Arawak" (a South American people) by the British. 
  • Diné means "the People". Called Navajo, from Spanish "Apache de Navajo".  Navajo is originally a Tewa (or Tano) word from the Diné neighbors. The Tewa are a linguistic group of Pueblo American Indians who speak the Tewa language and share the Pueblo culture.. 
  • The Dakota, Lakota and Nakota were called Sioux ("snake") by their enemies.
  • The Karifuna, called "Carib" (meaning "Strong Men") by the Taino, and Caribales/Canibales by Columbus.
  • Mexica (me-she-ka) are the so-called "Aztec" ("people from Aztlan" ) named after Hernando Cortez and the Spanish in 1519. The Spanish allied themselves with Mexica subjects to defeated the Mexica's  "Aztec Triple Alliance" empire, which has also become known as the "Aztec Empire" that included the Acolhuas of Texcoco and the Tepanecs of Tlacopan).

Friday, October 22, 2010


: (a) Taíno
ball players as seen in the Caribbean (Hispaniola) and reported by the Venetian Ambassador to Spain at the Spanish court, Seville in 1493.
(b) Taíno
stone belt worn by a player that counterbalanced the body during play. Carved belts like this found in Puerto Rico weighed between 15 to 57 pounds. Conquest of Eden by Michael Paiewonsky

(a) Ancient Maya ballcourt ruin at Uxmal, near Merida, Mexico, 2008 (Photo by Michael Auld). Note the ballcourt ring protruding from wall above woman to the left.
(b) Ceramic effigy of Maya ballplayer.
(c) Ballcourt ring.
(d) Ballcourt illustration from an Aztec codex. The ballcourt rings in the middle of this illustration may represent the fateful movement of the sun across the sky centered between skulls at the four corners of the sacred cardinal directions. Two players representing their teams prepare to lob the ball into play.

History’s First Team Sport

Imagine that you are part of an ancient civilization of warriors. One fateful morning you calmly stand and prepare to pray to the four cardinal directions. You light the brazier and waft sacred smoke over your body. You then strap on protective gear over your elbows, knees and hip. You are preparing to join your unit in a battle against evil forces and this may be your last day in this existence. Your death will be swift and today will indeed be a good day to die. The ceremony in which you are about to engage with teammates will spill blood to seed the earth. You will fight to gain the honor of being the people’s emissary to a god. If you are fortunate, in admiration your family will bury you with a ceramic effigy or a stone sphere representing the vulcanized blood of the hule tree. For your rebirth, your family will lovingly place the glimmering feathered body of a hummingbird on your grave. These hopes pass through your mind as you enter the stone walled ball court. Its sides are teeming with shouting admirers, some of whom are gambling on your fate.

This ceremonial game began with the invention of rubber and by the Mesoamerica’s mother civilization, the Olmec. Some Amazonian peoples used the “blood” of the rubber tree to remove unwanted body hair. Mesoamericans used rubber to make toys, bungee straps, wrappings for cushioning tool handles and for waterproofing shoes and capes.

Because of its antiquity, the Mesoamerican rubber ball game is considered to be “History’s first team sport”. When the Italian adventurer Christopher Columbus and the Spanish first arrived in the Americas in the 15 th century, the Caribbean’s indigenous Taíno people played an Amerindian rubber ball game called batu. According to the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places Itinerary, “The first written description of the game, played with two teams and a rubber ball, appeared after Columbus' first voyage.” Unable to believe their eyes, the arriving Spanish thought that the miraculous bouncing of the rubber ball was a result of witchcraft. The Taínos played a non-fatal version of the ball game on a clay court called a batey. Many Taíno villages had a batey that was also a center for social gatherings.

In Puerto Rico, a major archeological site in Caguana, Utuado has over 30 ball courts (bateys) built in 1270 AD, estimated to be over 700 years old  ( http://www.nps.gov/history/nR/travel/prvi/pr25.htm ). The most impressive playing enclosure is a large clay court that resembles a soccer field bordered in one side by paved stones. At one side of the field are flat upright stone slabs with incised images of Ataberia, the virgin mother of the Supreme Being, Yucahú Bagua Marocotti. Some stone slabs bordering the field weigh over one ton. Women’s teams sometimes played the Caribbean version of the game, unlike its Mesoamerican ancestor. In Mesoamerica, the ball courts were often “I” shaped fields bordered on the east and west sides by sloping stone walls. Some walls had stone rings set in the side through which a player bounced the solid nine-pound ball off his hip, elbow or shoulder. In both versions of the game, the players could not use their hand hands although in one version of the game ballplayers struck the ball with a bat.
Today in the Americas, fans of soccer and basketball have redirected their fervor for this indigenous American rubber ball game to more modern versions of the sport.

Early in the history of the Americas, this organized team sport, like maize, had travelled from Mesoamerica to Arizona and into the Caribbean. In some cultures, the ballgame represented the movement of the sun across the sky and the ominous outcome of this astrological phenomenon. In other places it was a source of communal gatherings where betting was the norm. Supposedly, sometimes either the winner or the loser’s head was decapitated as an honorable sacrificial offering “sending him directly to heaven”. The following are wall copy from a ball court in Uxmal, Merida (in Mexico’s Yucatan state) at the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. For one of the “Unforgettable Places to See Before You Die”, a visit to this impressive museum is necessary for anyone interested in learning the history of our hemisphere, the Americas.

Wall Copy from the Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City
(1) The ballgame is one of the defining characteristics of Mesoamerica. First found on the Central Highland Plateau [of Mexico], dates back to before 1200 BC when social and religious organization in these cultures reached complex levels. From time to time, the ballgame formed part of a cult, given finding of objects related to ballplayer’s attires. These included small yokes that symbolically represented the protectors used on hands and knees, and stone balls, symbolizing the original rubber ones. These balls were used in funerary and visual contexts. The stone balls, approximately three to four inches in diameter, were a little larger than a softball.
(2) The ballgame developed as a characteristic of Mesoamerica cultures; importance can be appreciated by the presence of buildings devoted to the execution of this ceremony.
The Ball Game Among the Mexicans
(1) All the people of ancient Mesoamerica practiced the ballgame, a ritual sport that determined the dangers faced by the sun on its daily journey across the heavens, thus predicting its fate.
(2) For the Mexicans the sacred ballgame was ullamaliztli (from “rubbery” used to make the ball). Characteristics of the ballgame were:
• Precise bounce which surprised the Europeans.
• The court was called tlaxico in Nahuat (a patio in the shape of an “I” or double “T”.
• On either side—slopes;
• Walls rings called “tlaxtemalcatl”, one to the south and one to the north. Balls go through them when struck with hip or forearm.
• Ends of court were west and east.
When a play was made that went against the movement of the sun, a decapitation was carried out. The blood vitalized the earth and the sun. Secular betting was one feature of the game.
The Ball
•Made from a tree named “hule”- the material is also called the same name of the tree. Hule came from the area near the Gulf of Mexico.
•The tree sap became rubber through a vulcanized process using diverse plants.
•The solid, heavy ball was the size of volleyball.
•The wall ring through which the ball had to pass was approximately one foot across.


Amerindians from the Mexican state of Sinaloa play a version of the game, called hulama.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Conquest

(1) Taíno maraca, Dominican Republic

Powhatan dancers with rattles, John White, Virginia, 1585

conquest /kón kwèst/ n. (Vulgar Latin) 1. taking control of a place or people by force of arms. –Encarta World English Dictionary

conquistador /kon keésta dawr/ n. (Mid-19th C via Spanish) 1. a Spanish conqueror or adventurer, especially one of those who conquered Mexico, Peru, and Central America in the 16th century –ibid.

Writers often make statements about the conquest of the Americas by foreign powers as if the episode in the history of this hemisphere was a deed in finality. They make the occurrence seem as if everything Native came to an abrupt end after dates like Columbus’ 1492 Taíno Caribbean encounter, Cortez’s 1519 entry into the Aztec capital and Pizsrro’s 1532 Inca Empire capture.

The word conquest implies many things. It is especially used in the Americas to mean the total takeover of many indigenous American societies and peoples. Does conquest mean that all cultural and genetic traces of the conquered are obliterated? Do conquered people ever totally submit to the oppressor’s will? How long does a conquest last? The Spanish who themselves had been conquered by Moors from Africa who had ruled over most of their peninsula for nearly 800 years, became the major oppressive force in the Americas for almost 400 years. In psychological terms, in the Americas, the Moorish “abused Spanish” became “abusers” of the indigenous Americans. By January of 1492, the Christian Spanish had just thrown off the yoke of the Islamic Moorish empire via the Reconquista (reconquest) when they began their own wars of terror against the populations in the Americas. Columbus had initiated the move in the Caribbean in October of the same year. Ironically, Spanish control over the Americas also ended at their starting point in the Caribbean’s Cuba and Puerto Rico at the hands of the Americans in the1898 Spanish-American War. Spain’s domination in the Americas had ended where it had begun.

“Whether it is the Normans in England, the Chinese in Tibet, the Germans in Poland, the Indonesians in West Papua [New Guinea], the British and Americans in North America, the claiming of other people’s land and supplanting of one people by another has shaped the history of societies from the ancient past to the present day.”— Conquest: How Societies Overwhelm Others by David Day

Since the Romans conquered Britain, are the English still Romans? The English threw off the Roman yoke and re-established their cultural continuum, albeit retaining many Roman influences. A notable example was the desire to do the same and to travel the world in attempts to overwhelm other societies. The “abused” became the “abuser”. What became “Britain” may have been biological amalgamation, yet the indigenous people of those small isles retained their Anglo identity, culturally and genetically. Although we would not dare to challenge an Englishman about his heritage, contemporary writers dismiss a similar notion of Indigenous American identity. Are the Caribbean, South, Central and North American populations Spanish or British?

It is often parroted that “the Taíno disappeared soon after” the conquistadors followed Columbus into the Caribbean after 1492. The same notion is commonly ascribed to other indigenous American civilizations. These societies, like the Aztec and others have been psychologically relegated to the “disappeared”. Yet how complete is this notion of total evaporation?

After Conquest, then what?

The series of events after a conquest have differed around the world. In the Americas, conquest was followed by colonialism, then independence from the European powers. However, according to David Day, the move to supplant the Native populations continued under the newly freed governments. “From the [Indian’s] perspective, the nature of the American colonists had not changed. Europeans came to North America to establish themselves on territory owned by Indians and they continued, after independence, to pursue that aim clear across the continent.” This approach to obliteration of Native culture and replacing it with a foreign one continues at present in this hemisphere. Today, there is a struggle by indigenous Americans to maintain and renew their heritages, in spite of an educational system that has worked to promote “dead” Indians over living descendants. Throughout the Americas the resurgence of Native pride is one weapon against an apathetic educational system.

Indigenous Music Traditions Never Ended: Take the Maracas

maracas /mə ráaka/ (Tupi) n. a percussion instrument usually shaken in pairs as an accompaniment to Latin American music and consisting of a hollow rattle filled with small pebbles or beans–Encarta World English Dictionary.

Many cultural practices that we observe among the peoples of the Americas are part of an ancient indigenous continuum that is often misidentified. For example, in the article : New Notes about Taíno Music and its Influence on Contemporary Dominican Life by Lynn Guitar, the author suggests that the Dominicans on that Caribbean island half of Hispaniola shared with Haiti, “have a passion for music and dance since the Colonial Era when you could dance in the churches streets and public plazas”. Many of these Dominicans are the descendants of the indigenous peoples of Haiti Bohio (meaning “high ground home”) or Quisqueya (meaning “mother of the earth”) that was the center of the Caribbean’s Taíno civilization. They were the first to be conquered by the Spanish arriving in the Americas.

Music played a highly significant role in both the daily and ritual lives of the Taíno, as we call the indigenous peoples of Hispaniola and the other islands of the Greater Antilles, although there were actually several different groups of indigenous peoples living here when Christopher Columbus arrived and dramatically changed not only their names, but the course of their history. The Taíno used music to help make mundane work more bearable, to help them remember and recount their history, to celebrate special occasions, and to communicate with their spiritual guides, their cemíes, to gain their help in healing, for protection against destructive natural forces such as hurricanes and earthquakes, to ensure rain when needed, good harvests, hunts, and fishing expeditions, and other necessities of life. In fact, music and song were so important, that one of the most valuable gifts one Taíno could give another was a song.

Maracas are rattles, most frequently today made out of small hollowed-out gourds (higüeros) with stick handles attached, but sometimes carved out of wood. The main difference between original Taíno maracas and modern ones is that the original ones, at least those used by the behique [shaman] for religious rituals, appear to have had one large ball of wood inside—in fact, the maraca was carved out of one piece of wood, handle and all, with the ball of wood that produces the clicking sound carved out of the inner core of that one piece of wood, through open slits that allow the sound to come out. Today’s maracas have no slits; they are left enclosed, with many small stones or seeds sealed inside the empty gourd before the handle is attached. The maracas used by Taíno musicians may have been more like the modern ones, and they appear to have used two at a time, like most modern percussionists. The behique used only one maraca, not two, and he played not by shaking it, but by hitting it against his other hand.” -- Lynn Guitar

Recognizing and Appreciating Indigenous Cultural Retentions

Using music as an example, recognizing and understanding Native American Cultural retentions had been difficult for the conquerors. For example, Lyn Guitar stated that “Like the music of most Asian cultures, Amerindian music is also typically pentatonic, meaning based on five notes, instead of the typical 8-note base of most European music. ‘What [really] makes the Native American scales sound so alien [to European ears] is that the pitches of the five notes are seemingly chosen at random.’ The pitch patterns appear to have varied from tribe to tribe, village to village, family to family, even from person to person, so they were no doubt understood by the Amerindians as a means of kinship or geographic identification, just as indigenous peoples used specific designs for ceramics, textiles, and other decorated objects as identifiers of artists, families, and nations from particular regions.”

It is not surprising that even in today’s societies in the Americas we find it difficult to recognize and appreciate the very strong cultural retentions that derived from our indigenous American heritage. We in the Americas may be more “indigenous” than we think. The key to this realization is through continued education about those things that we have retained from our Native sisters and brothers.

New Notes about Taíno Music and its Influence on Contemporary Dominican Life (http://www.centrelink.org/GuitarTainoMusicEN.html)